Faith

The God Who Mourns

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One thing my family and I try to do is have a time of family worship in which we spend some time reading and talking about the Bible, and praying. Normally my kids love this time we spend together, and love hearing about Jesus and what God has to say to us through His Word.

Recently however, my 4 year old daughter didn’t want to have Bible Study. She wanted to play with her older sister. Even though I told her we were going to talk about Jesus, and how it was so important because Jesus loves us, she still wanted no part of our worship time. Even though I told her that the Bible tells us all about God, and how we can love God better, at that moment she had zero interest in hearing what the Bible had to say. (This sounds a lot like some adults I know also.)

After several minutes of me trying to encourage my daughter to join us, she finally got frustrated and blurted out, “I don’t like Jesus! I don’t want Him! I don’t want to know about God!”

Now, I understand that she is 4 years old and she really doesn’t understand what she is saying. I understand that she doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to understand that when we read the Bible, and read about Jesus, and when we choose to receive it as truth or reject it…there are eternal consequences. But nevertheless, when she blurted out those words, I was crushed. My feelings were hurt, and my heart agonized hearing such harsh words come from the lips of my little girl.

Her words got me to thinking though. If those words crushed me – If hearing the voice of my little girl reject Jesus and the things of God affect me so powerfully – How much more does it hurt the heart of God when He is rejected?

How it must pain Him when He hears people say they don’t want Him. How it must cause Him to mourn when people reject His Word. How it must grieve the heart of God when He sees people turn away from His Son Jesus, and the salvation that He brings. Sadly, there are times when even those who profess to love Him still choose to reject Him…either with their lips, or with their actions.

Now, this idea of God mourning over the words or the actions of people may strike some as odd. God is sovereign, He has perfect foreknowledge…so, does God really grieve over the actions of men, or how they choose to respond to Him and His love? The answer to that question is an emphatic, “Yes!”

Colossians tells us that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. (1:15) This means that if you’ve seen Jesus, you’ve seen the Father. Jesus Himself says this exact thing in John 14:9. Jesus was God in human flesh, and perfectly reveals God and His character and personality to us. This being true, if we want to know how God feels about something, or how He would react to a particular scenario…all we have to do is look to Jesus.

So, how did Jesus respond to being rejected? He wept and He mourned. In Matthew 23:37 Jesus says of Jerusalem, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Luke 19:41 tells us that when Jesus drew near and saw the city, “…he wept over it.”

I don’t know about you the reader, but as I read these words and think about the heart of God, I am amazed. To think that God loves us so much and longs to bring us to Himself is amazing. To think that God grieves when we choose to reject Him with either our words or our actions, is a powerful thought.

Friends, God loves you. God longs to be with you. We know this because He sent His Son Jesus to tell us so. God loves you and longs to be with you so much, that He sent Jesus to the cross to make it possible. Jesus took upon Himself your sin, and my sin, so that we could be forgiven and no longer separated from Him. There is no questioning the love of God for His people, or His desire to be with us. The only question is…how will you respond to His love?

My prayer is that none of us would foolishly echo the words of my young daughter. She spoke out of youthful ignorance. If you are reading these words, you don’t have that excuse. Jesus loves you, I pray that you will love Him back. Jesus wants you, I pray that you want Him as well. God knows all about you, do you have the desire to know Him? I hope that you do.

Dear reader, don’t grieve the heart of God by rejecting so great a love. Run to Him. Desire more of Him. Learn all you can about Him, learn how to love Him better, and rest in His precious saving grace.

Let Us Consider: Neglecting to Meet Together

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“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25

I’m sure these are verses that we all have heard quoted many times, especially by preachers who are trying to guilt us into coming to church. Let me say right now before we go any further, I don’t want to guilt you into going to church. I tell folks all the time, even the folks that I pastor, that it is not my job to beg people to come to church. Sure, I want you to know that I want you there. Yes, I want you to know that the doors are always open. Please, know that everyone is welcome. But, I will never beg you to come to church nor will I make you feel guilty for not being there.

Does this mean that I don’t think church is important? Absolutely not. There are few things in this world and in our Christian lives that are more important than worshiping corporately with fellow believers. In fact, as this passage from Hebrews shows us very clearly, corporate worship is a command from God. We are to “not neglect to meet together…” Why? So that we can stir one another up to good works, and encourage each other.

Likewise, in Ephesians 4 the Apostle Paul gives another powerful illustration of what is accomplished through the local church. Paul says that the saints are equipped…”for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God…to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine…we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

The picture we have throughout the Bible, ALL of the Bible, is that believers WILL gather with other believers in order to worship God and to be built up in their faith. It is through the ministry of the local church that we learn who God really is. It is through the ministry of the local church that we learn what God has done and is doing through Christ. It is through the local church that believers are built up in their faith, grow in their walk with Christ, and are shaped more into his image. It is through the local church that believers draw close to other believers and build relationships that help them to love God and love others as Christ has called them to love. It is through the local church that believers encourage each other, love each other, and build each other up.

This isn’t just a preacher talking, this is the Word of God talking.

So, no, I don’t want to beg anyone to come to church. But what I do want you to know is that if you aren’t a member of a local church, or if you don’t attend a local church and serve in a local church then your faith WILL suffer. Your Christian life WILL suffer. Your relationship with God WILL suffer. Your knowledge of and affection for the Lord Jesus will not be what it should be. Perhaps most frightening of all…If you are neglecting to meet together with other believers, you are neglecting and disobeying the clear command of the word of God, and this is called sin.

As a pastor, I don’t want to see people coming to church because it strokes my ego, or makes me feel more successful. As a pastor, I want to see people coming to church because I want to see people drawing near to Jesus and growing in their relationship with him.

I was reading this week about the persecution of Christians in many parts of the world, and I was reminded yet again what an amazing privilege we have here in the United States to worship and speak the name of Jesus freely. In other parts of the world there are believers who have to meet in secret, and literally risk their lives to speak, sing, and praise the name of Jesus. Believers in other parts of the world would literally die to do the things that so many of us take for granted, and even neglect.

I said previously that I don’t want to guilt anyone into going to church, and I don’t see it as my job to beg you to do so. Those things may be true, but I do want to leave you with this encouragement: PLEASE, for the sake of your own soul and your relationship with the Lord, find a local church. Attend that local church, join that local church, be faithful and serve that local church. This is the will of God for your life – Scripture commands it, a thriving and vibrant Christian life demands it.

Book Review: Balance, by Gregory Tyree

Let me start off by saying that I am not generally a fan of “self-help” books or anything that might resemble them. That being said, I really enjoyed this book, Balance by Gregory Tyree. 

First of all, Gregory is a really good writer. His writing style is friendly, and easy to follow, and makes you want to continue reading. He isn’t overly technical, nor is he too “wordy”. He says what he needs to say and he moves on. This is a quality that I wish more writers possessed.

Secondly, Tyree’s illustrations are helpful, clear, and serve to hammer his points home. While I usually find charts distracting, and even at times annoying, the charts in this book I found quite useful. Even his self-assessment tools are extremely helpful, not only to help make his points, but also to make you think about the areas of your life that you may be struggling.

Most important of all, this book is truly a beneficial book. While written from the perspective of a Christian and a Pastor, anyone can be helped by reading this book. Whether most of us realize it or not, there are areas in all of our lives in which we struggle in, or are less successful than we are in others. Gregory does a great job of helping us pin-point those areas without coming off “preachy” or overly critical. In fact, he sees himself as a “fellow struggler”, which is in some ways is quite reassuring.

I personally am very glad I ventured outside of my normal reading habits and gave Balance a read. I’m confident that Gregory has given me many helpful, practical, and easy to follow steps that will allow me to begin to cultivate balance in my life in a way that I’ve not done in the past. I pray that as I continue to take these steps, and as the grace of God continues to work in my life and ministry, that I will become a better husband, father, pastor, and friend. I believe that this book is certainly a tool, that will aid me in this process.

Balance, by Gregory Tyree is available in paperback or kindle. Click HERE to check it out.

Coming Soon! Jonah and the Mercy of God

 

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I’m thrilled to be working with Focus Forward Publishing to release my next book, Jonah and the Mercy of God. Tentative release date is early May, so be watching out for it! I’m so excited about this project, and I can’t wait to share it with the world!  More details to follow.
http://www.focusforwardpublishing.com

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Life’s Big Question

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Animals die. People die. This is a certainty. Death is inevitable. It happens to us all. This reality should cause us all to ask a very important question, and I think for most of us it does. This is also the question that King Solomon was asking in Ecclesiastes 3:21-22. Solomon asks, “Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?”

Solomon is asking the question here: Is there life after death? He said, who knows? And like I said, this is a question I think that we all deal with at one time or another in one way or another. It’s a question that most people have.

The inevitability of death is one thing. But here is the real kicker – and if you don’t believe me just read the rest of the book of Ecclesiastes – if this life is all there is, then life IS meaningless. And if this life is all there is, and if life is meaningless, then we all should despair, because that is a terrifying thought.

BUT, if there is life after death, then everything changes doesn’t it? That’s the game changer!

Solomon wants the answer to this most important question, he asks, “Who can know?” And it is true, in one sense, that there is a limit to what we can know about what happens after we die. Yes, we can hear stories or read books about folks who have had near death experiences, but still, there isn’t anyone who has ever been dead for a long period of time, and then came back and told us what the after-life is all about. We have no truly first-hand accounts of all of the details….

Still, we want them! And that’s why books about people going to heaven, and their tales (and I would say tall tales) are so popular to people. Because we want the details about what happens when we die. We want to know what we can expect. Because the unknown is scary. But in and of ourselves, our knowledge of life is pretty limited to our present state. In and of ourselves, we don’t know what happens beyond the grave. This bothered Solomon, and I think it bothers many people.

So Solomon says we might as well just enjoy our present existence, and enjoy life all we can. And IF we are uncertain about our eternities, then I guess this IS the best plan, to simply enjoy life while you can and to get as much joy out of this life while you can…

But the question I have for all of us is this: Do we have to be uncertain about our eternity? I don’t think so. Solomon himself would figure this out too. In Ecclesiastes 12:7 he says of man, “…the spirit returns to God who gave it.”

But even better than this, we have a great advantage over Solomon, don’t we? Why? Because we know Christ. We KNOW the one who can, as Solomon says in verse 22, “…bring him to see what will be after him.” We KNOW the one whom Solomon was longing for.

We KNOW the one who has been through death, and yet came out victorious. We KNOW the one who came down from heaven to reveal the truths of eternity to us. We KNOW Jesus the Son of God who was put to death on a cross.

But He didn’t stay dead did he?

We know that on the third day he conquered death and was raised. He is now in glory at the right hand of God! And now all who believe in Him will rise again to the better life that Hebrews 11:35 tells us about. Jesus has gone to heaven to prepare a better place for us, so that we can be where He is. That’s what John 14:3 says. And because of these things we can be certain of our eternities, and we can have the blessed assurance that we sing about so often.

Jesus has revealed eternity to us, and He has won it FOR us…and all we have to do is receive it, and trust and rest in Him.

Don’t Waste Your Social Media

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Anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time has heard the “Great Commission”. Even if you aren’t a Christian, chances are you probably know what I’m talking about when I refer to the “Great Commission”. In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus says these words: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…”

As I contemplate these words of Jesus, I am both encouraged AND discouraged, let me explain.

First of all, I am encouraged as a believer, because God has placed me in a time and in a society in which it is easier than ever for me to reach the masses with His Word. Now, we could list any number of things to make this case – things like air travel, radio and television, or even print media – and these are all wonderful things. What I have in mind though is social media platforms, such as Facebook or Twitter.

I can hear some of you chuckling right now. Many of us don’t take social media seriously. Many of us think of our social media time as simply a way to connect to friends or to share cat videos and photos of our dinner. Others think of social media as a complete waste of time. I want us to think about this, however: In what other forum do you have dozens, maybe even hundreds or thousands of people listening to hear what you have to say? In terms of Gospel impact, what other forum do you have in which you can post a Bible verse or an inspirational quote or thought, and that same verse or quote get seen and shared by people on the other side of the world? All with the simple click of a button. All of us have a circle of friends and a sphere of influence. Social media allows us to multiply that exponentially.

Again, some of us think of social media as a giant waste of time. A lot of us value a physical visit or a phone call more than a message on Facebook or a comment on a status. I get it. In a world that is increasingly becoming more digitized, and folks are communicating by text and email, the sound of someone’s voice or the sight of a friendly face at your door is often refreshing. I don’t think social media can ever replace that, nor should it. BUT, this shouldn’t be a reason to ignore such a powerful tool that God can use for His glory and to spread His message.

As a pastor, I share a lot of Scripture on social media. I often post inspirational quotes or even thoughts that come to my mind throughout the day. I post links to blogs that I find helpful or even blogs that I myself write. Some people would see all of this as a giant waste of time. You would be amazed though at how often people who would never step foot in a church send me a message and ask me questions about spiritual matters. You would be amazed at the number of people, and the types of people that interact with the things that I post. Again, people from all walks of life, with a variety of beliefs, and worldviews. I hear often, “well I never thought of that” or, “I’ve never had anyone explain things like that before.”

I don’t say this to puff myself up, but to say that all of us can reach people via social media that perhaps we would never be able to reach otherwise. I think we would be silly to ignore such a powerful tool. Do we really believe if Paul or Jesus had access to the internet that they wouldn’t take full advantage of it? Absolutely they would, and so should we.

The power of social media and its potential to be used for Great Commission impact is very encouraging to me. As I said though, I am also a bit discouraged, and here is why. With such a powerful tool that we have been given as Christians to make such a powerful impact for the Kingdom of God, I see so many of us wasting this opportunity…and not just because we aren’t using it, but because we are using it so unwisely.

In our charged political climate, as opposed to us seeking to make an impact for Jesus, we would rather use our time online to spout off about our political ideas and philosophies. Instead of us taking advantage of the opportunity to share about the love of Jesus, we use that time to tell everyone how angry we are about this politician, or this group of people, who we believe are ruining our country.

But it isn’t just politics. So many times I see Christians sharing posts with language or images that certainly do not honor the Lord we say that we worship. I see Christians themselves using language or writing posts that are unbefitting of one who calls himself a child of God. I’m no prude, and I can enjoy a good joke, but it is hard for people to take you seriously as a Christian if you share Scripture in one post, then in the very next post go on a profanity-laced rant about the guy who cut you off in traffic.

Social media, like anything else, can and should be used for the glory of God, and I believe this is the reason for which God has given it to us. That being said, Satan will do everything in his power to use it for evil and distract us from using it for its intended purposes. For some, he will simply try to convince us that there is very little value in it. For others of us, he will try to tell us that it’s really just a big waste of time…and if we aren’t using it as a means to glorify God, then he is right.

Don’t fall for Satan’s trap. Take advantage of every opportunity to make much of Jesus. Take every opportunity you can to spread the message of the Gospel. Use the power of social media to take the Word of God to all nations. You never know how much impact one click of a button might have.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or WHATEVER you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31

I’d Rather Have Jesus

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Jesus asks the question in Mark 8:36, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” The answer, of course, is nothing. There is no profit, no matter how much you gain in this world and in this life if you lose your soul. If you lose your soul…then you lose everything. If you lose your soul, then you lose eternity.

As I contemplate this question from Jesus and the powerful implications, I’m reminded of King Solomon. King Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes talks at length about his pursuit of meaning, purpose, joy, and ultimate satisfaction. Solomon in the first two chapters of Ecclesiastes talks about how he pursued meaning in laughter, having a good time, alcohol, his work, possessions, wealth, wisdom, and even sexual pleasure. Yet, in spite of all his pursuits, Solomon arrived at the conclusion that ultimately all of these things he pursued were empty and meaningless. Listen to his own words in Ecclesiastes 2:9-11, “So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all ALL WAS VANITY AND A STRIVING AFTER WIND, and there was NOTHING TO BE GAINED UNDER THE SUN.”

Solomon is basically telling us in these few verses, and really the entire book of Ecclesiastes, “I’ve done it all, I’ve tried it all, and I had it all…yet in spite of all I did and all I had, I found it completely meaningless.” All of Solomon’s pursuits left him empty. He found no lasting and ultimate satisfaction in any of it.

I think the question we all have to ask ourselves in light of these revelations from Solomon is, why.  Why can Solomon not find meaning or satisfaction in any of his earthly pursuits? Well, it’s for the same reason that you or I can’t.

You nor I won’t ever have the wealth of a King Solomon. (Just guessing) You nor I won’t ever possess the earthly wisdom of a King Solomon. You nor I won’t ever have the means to pursue the many things that King Solomon does as we read about his life in Scripture. But the same conclusions that Solomon arrives at in the book of Ecclesiastes are just as true for us as they were for him. You and I won’t ever find ultimate satisfaction, meaning, or purpose in the things of this world.

Why is this? Very simply because we weren’t created to be satisfied by the things of this world.

This doesn’t mean that everything in this world is bad. Laughter and fun is a wonderful thing. Most of us could use more of it in our lives. But it’s not an ultimate thing. It’s not why we were created. A nice house, more money, a lot of possessions can be good things. Wisdom is certainly something that we should all strive for. Even sexual pleasure is a gift from God. But all good gifts must be enjoyed in their proper context and with a proper perspective. The good gifts God gives us must not overshadow the God who has given us the gifts.

Is this because God is some cosmic killjoy who doesn’t want us to have fun? Absolutely not. God wants us to enjoy our earthly existence. It’s why he gives us good gifts. But ultimately those gifts are meant to point us to the ultimate good, which is God himself. God doesn’t want us to settle for the inferior pleasures of this world when he himself offers us the greatest of all pleasures.

Psalm 16:11 says, “…in your presence there is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” We know from Scripture that at the right hand of God is Jesus. So it is in and through Christ that we find the fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore.

The overwhelming teaching of Scripture is that God is the greatest good, the greatest pleasure, and the greatest joy. Only in a life focused and centered on God will we find true and ultimate meaning, and all of this is found in Christ. These things being true, I find the words of the well-known hymn “I’d Rather Have Jesus” especially pertinent, and my prayer for all of us is that these words would truly be the cry of our hearts:

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;

I’d rather have Jesus than have riches untold;

I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands;

I’d rather be led by his nail pierced hands

Than to be king of a vast domain and be held in sin’s dread sway.

I’d rather have Jesus than anything, this world affords today.

 

May these words be true for all of us, and may we all live our lives as if it were so.